ONE MORE STEP: Warriors Pound the Pioneers to Advance to State Finals


THEY’RE STATES BOUND. On a holiday-themed night with a packed student section, the Warriors hosted the Watauga Pioneers for a spot in the state championship game. 

Using a similar tactic to the Trojans last week, when Watauga won the toss, they decided to receive the ball. Following a touchback, the drive didn’t start the way Weddington hoped for. There were two encroachment penalties right off the bat and that gave the Pioneers 10 yards without moving the ball themselves. Fortunately, the defense was able to shut down Watauga and forced a punt.

Colby Barsz returned the ball to the 20, but was moved back to the 11 after a block in the back penalty. As per usual, the first drive was a majority of Will Shipley. The junior, who was recently named the North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year, took the first pass from junior Dante Casciola 31 yards. He ran the ball a total of 17 yards on the next two plays, followed by a one-yard run by Malik Mustapha. Shipley’s next run was for a gain of 15 and Casciola’s next pass to senior Dusty Mercer was incomplete. Shipley ran for 10 and Trey Gordon carried the ball for an 11-yard gain to the Watauga three. The ball was pushed to the one-yard line on a holding penalty called against Watauga. To round off his already dominant drive, Shipley carried the ball one yard and Ian Williams’s kick put the Warriors up 7-0 with 6:07 left in the first.

Williams’s kick went out of the endzone and started the Pioneer drive at the 20. Following two runs for a gain of five, quarterback Anderson Castle pitched the ball to running back Jaiden Bond, who completed a 56-yard pass downfield and put his team at the Weddington nine-yard line. The next three plays lost the Pioneers two yards. Being deep in Warrior territory, head coach Ryan Habich had no choice but to attempt a fourth-down conversion. Castle’s pass was incomplete and gave Weddington the ball at their own six.

The first two plays, which were a two-yard run by Shipley and a ten-yard pass to Mercer, brought the Warriors to the 18. Will Shipley did what he does best, which is to find holes and run to the endzone. The 82-yard run put Weddington up 14-0 with 1:03 remaining in the first. 

Watauga’s next drive was a three-and-out and the first quarter wound down. Colby Barsz signaled for a fair catch at his own 37. Sophomore running back Kyle Parsons took the ball 15 yards into Watauga territory. Casciola’s pass to sophomore Landyn Backey was incomplete, and he handed the ball back to Parsons for a gain of three. The penalty on Watauga pushed the ball to the Pioneer 40. Backey made up for his incomplete pass by carrying the ball 25 yards to the 15-yard line. Linebacker Alec Mock lined up as a receiver and caught Casciola’s pass in the endzone, putting the Warriors up by three scores with 10:34 left in the half.

It didn’t take long for the ball to be back in the hands of the Weddington offense. Castle called his number and ran for three yards. A handoff to Bond turned into a strip from Alec Mock. The senior ran the ball back to the Watauga six.

For this drive, Casciola wasn’t on the field at all. Shipley took the first snap but failed to connect with Dusty Mercer. However, Mercer took the next snap and ran the ball six yards into the endzone. Williams’s kick was perfect and the score was 28-0 with 9:31 remaining in the half.

Starting at their own 20, Watauga was once again held to a three-and-out by the dominant Warrior defense. 

Barsz downed the ball at the 23. Kambridge Tuttle and Shipley each gained six yards. The next play was a direct snap to Shipley, a pitch to Casciola, and a 65-yard pass to Tuttle for a touchdown. Another good extra point put the Warriors up by five touchdowns with 6:10 remaining. 

What seemed like a shutout in the making, the Warrior defense gave up one touchdown this half. Castle connected with Grant Oliver for a 14-yard touchdown pass. With one minute left, the score was 35-7.

Shipley was back to receive the kickoff and returned the ball to the 49. Parsons caught the ball for a nine-yard gain. Unfortunately, Casciola threw an interception to Isaiah Shirley, who returned the ball to the Warrior 37. An incomplete pass and an intentional grounding penalty brought the ball back to the Watauga 47. Two runs for 13 yards seemed to run the clock out, but head coach Habich called a timeout with one second left. An incomplete pass downfield ended the half, with the Warriors at a commanding 35-7 lead. 

The Warriors got the ball first in the second half. The drive started at the Weddington 43. Shipley ran the ball seven yards and caught a 34-yard pass from Casciola. Trey Gordon ran for eight yards and two yards the next play. Two plays later, Casciola connected with Colby Barsz for an 11-yard touchdown pass. With Williams’s kick good, the score was 42-7 with 7:16 left in the third.

Once again, the Warrior defense showed up. Following a run by Castle for a loss of one, Malik Mustapha picked off the quarterback’s next pass at the Weddington 48. Shipley took the next three plays downfield for a total of 24 yards. Backey ran the ball four yards, Gordon for five, and Shipley for four more of his own. The next play was a 12-yard pass to Backey for a touchdown. With 3:16 left in the quarter, the clock ran except for timeouts and scores. 

Watauga’s next drive was a three-and-out. The next drive for Weddington brought in a new quarterback. Sophomore Grady Brosterhous was brought in to replace Casciola. Following two straight fumbles, it was Watauga’s ball at the Weddington 48.

The fumble set Watauga up for their second score of the night. Castle called his number for a 23-yard run. The score was 49-14 with 8:23 left in the game. That would be the final score of the game.

Kambridge Tuttle capped off the night with the defense’s third interception of the game.

Your final score was 49-14. This Saturday, the Warriors will travel to Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh to play the Lee County Yellow Jackets. This is one of the few brackets in which both number one seeds play each other in the finals. With back-to-back state titles and a perfect season on the line, the Warriors are sure to be ready to fight. Game time is 7:00 and Weddington will be sending a charter bus for students. The link can be found on the school website. The fee is $25, which includes payment for a ticket and a sub box from Jersey Mike’s.

The state semi-final win wasn’t the only accomplishment for Warrior football this weekend. Not only was Will Shipley named the North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year, star kicker Ian Williams recently announced his commitment to North Carolina State University.